Youth voices ring loudly in Wood Buffalo

Dr. Tamara Plush

As part of Royal Roads ResiliencebyDesign Lab’s Youth Voices Rising project in Wood Buffalo, more than 600 young people recently participated in the #YouthVoicesWB social media campaign aimed at strengthening youth resilience after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. The campaign asked youth aged 14 to 24 to creatively contribute answers to the question: “What would you do to make your community better?” Through creative arts and other activities (song, photography, art, poetry, sticky note answers, etc.), youth expressed their concerns and ideas on transportation, bullying, finding safe spaces for LGBTQI youth, the desire for more youth-focused activities in the area, problems with drugs and alcohol and other issues important to them. The answers are being analyzed now by the RbD Lab to produce knowledge on how youth can contribute to decision-making and policy planning after disaster to strengthen community recovery and resilience efforts.

The #YouthVoicesWB campaign focused not only on amplifying youth concerns and ideas, but also connecting them to decision-makers in the region and in different communities. For instance, the campaign strategically ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 27 during the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo election; and included interviews with mayoral candidates about why youth voice matters with policy. This helped create a connection between young people and the newly elected Mayor Don Scott, who recently championed youth voice at a #YouthVoicesWB talent showcase and asked to display the sticky note wall created by the Justin Slade Youth Foundation in his office (Dr. Tamara Plush, RbD Lab Postdoctoral Fellow, delivered the wall). Youth in the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation and Fort McKay First Nation also connected their concerns and ideas to their band councils and communities through photography shows and reports developed through the #YouthVoicesWB campaign.

The campaign ended with ten young people performing at a #YouthVoicesWB talent showcase, hosted by the campaign, the District Recording Studio  and 91.1 The Bridge. Shaw TV Fort McMurray recently posted videos  of the talented youth performers, as well as the talk by Mayor Don Scott and Councillor Jeff Peddle. The videos highlight a diversity of great music, including a song about recovery from the wildfire disaster by Shekinah, age 15. She sang: “There's something about this town that nobody sees. No matter what tries to bring you down, you can't be beat. And the fire that burnt down all your hopes and dreams. You came back twice as strong ready to take on anything… If I could do something to make this place any better. I would bring back the people that stuck together. Our hearts stayed strong we'll carry on forever. It's all a part of our recovery.” Hear all the #YouthVoicesWB songs at the District Recording Studio.

As the Youth Voices Rising project moves into year two, the RbD Lab will continue to connect youth ideas and concerns to the recovery efforts. As a first step, in early 2018, the RbD Lab will hand over the YouthVoicesWB social media sites to a local social profit, Some Other Solutions. “We’re excited that a local youth-focused organization wants to continue #YouthVoicesWB as a platform for championing youth voice,” says Dr. Tamara Plush. “Handing #YouthVoicesWB over elevates the campaign from a youth-informed, academic initiative to a community-run social media hub for Wood Buffalo youth. This is a meaningful example of the type sustainable Creative Action Research that we support and are constantly striving for in the ResiliencebyDesign Lab.”

In the Youth Voices Rising project in 2018, the RbD Lab will continue to work closely with local partners. The collaborative efforts will focus on strength-based initiatives aimed at investigating the positive in communities as the focus of inquiry. Through culturally appropriate training and activities using Creative Action Research, the RbD Lab and partners plan to explore what is working in communities around youth resilience as a means to further understand, amplify and support local values and strengths as a process of disaster recovery. “Youth are incredibly innovative in finding their own solutions for disaster recovery when given the opportunity," says Dr. Robin Cox, RbD lab director and professor in the School of Humanitarian Studies. “Sometimes all it takes is recognition and support of their talents for innovative ideas to emerge. This is when positive change can occur both personally for young people, and in the communities where they live.”YVR Ideas IncubatorYouthVoicesWB showcase